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Jellyfish researcher Surasit Utsaha in a Phuket stake trap

Phuket Box Jellyfish: Are We In Danger?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Photo Album: Check Our 28 Pictures!

WE ARE looking for box jellyfish off Phuket. At least, one of us is looking for box jellyfish.

The other three are hanging back and watching from a distance.

It is only when we are in the water, with Phuket City about four kilometres away across the mangroves, that we notice a difference in approach here.

The two marine scientists are in long trousers and shoes, while the two reporters are bare-legged and bare-footed.

Essentially, that's one of the key issues for anyone paddling around in the sea off Phuket these days: Is there something we should be told, for our own safety?

Have you had experience with jellyfish off Phuket or Krabi? If so, please tell us in the Comment box below


Box jellyfish are being found with regularity in the waters of Nam Bor Bay, on the island's south east coast, between the city's Saphan Hin garbage incinerator and Cape Panwa.

Today two are captured in the first mangrove stake box trap we visit, in water up to our knees.

More had been expected. Larger numbers have been captured and tipped into a bucket here most days recently.

Today, probably because of the height of the tide, we have to settle for two.

The discovery of box jellyfish off the coast of the holiday resort island is disconcerting and now poses a challenge for scientists and health authorities.

''This is all new to us,'' said Dr Somchai Bussarawit, the chief of the museum and aquarium at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre.

Waters in Australia and parts of Asia invariably contain dangerous creatures that are not found in European climes.

But the discovery of box jellyfish here has surprised and intrigued Dr Somchai and his hard-working colleague of 30 years, Surasit Utsaha.

Khun Surasit is using a net to dip for the transparent jellyfish, which are impossible to see in the stake trap.

The two he discovers are immature juveniles, with bodies smaller than tennis balls. Jellybabies, you could call them.

Are their stings dangerous? Dr Somchai smiles. That's a matter for further research, and something none of us are keen to find out for ourselves today.

Coincidentally, this beautiful spot is just a short drive down the road from the aquarium.

Box jellyfish have an awesome reputation as killers in northern Australia. But only a few deaths have been reported officially so far in Thai waters.

Strangely enough, the three known victims since 2002 have been an Australian, a Swiss and a Swedish girl off Koh Lanta in April.

With so many Thais in and around the same waters in much greater numbers, how is it there have not been more reports of many more deaths?

This is a question to be asked of the Thai health authorities.

As Dr Somchai points out more than once, he is a scientist. The priority of his team of marine biologists now is to find out all he can about the box jellyfish off Phuket and Krabi.

Has global warming contributed to the arrival of box jellyfish? Is it to do with too many fish being caught, reducing the natural predators? Could the toxic overflow from the garbage at Saphan Hin have something to do with it?

Dr Somchai bats away these questions. Science is his forte and he will wait to see first what Australian researchers have to say about the jellyfish, probably very soon

What Dr Somchai can say is that the box jellyfish have been found so far only in this particular stretch of mangroves off Phuket.

Although a Phuketwan reader described a jellyfish attack at Nai Harn earlier this year, he believes Phuket's popular Western beaches are clear of any kind of jellyfish danger.

Fishermen throughout the region are in the habit of alerting the centre to surprise discoveries, and the scientists are in touch regularly with public health officials.

It will be their decision as to what information needs to be conveyed to the public, at what stage in the research into the box jellyfish, and in what form.

Dr Somchai was able to tell us that one of the two varieties of box jellyfish, quite unusually, has a single eye and a single tentacle and is able to propel itself by swimming.

Box Jellyfish Found Off Phuket: Death in Krabi
The death of a tourist off Krabi and the discovery of a non-fatal form of box jellyfish off Phuket bring a call for help - and a claim that many more deaths go unrecorded.
Box Jellyfish Found Off Phuket: Death in Krabi

Comments

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It certainly does seem odd that the three recorded deaths from box jellyfish are all foreigners. Surely some Thais must also go in the water and get fatally stung? Either the Thais are too smart to go in the water, or local deaths from box jellyfish simply go without being noticed. Surely the public health people must know the truth? They should speak out about the dangers

Posted by angelfire on October 22, 2008 22:22

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We travelled to Patong in May last year and went on a tour to Phang Nha Bay. In the afternoon after seeing some Hongs, we were invited to have a swim at a beach called Monkey Beach.
Passengers swum to the Beach including our three children (10/7/4) and were playing in the shallows when the 7 year old daughter began screaming. On getting her out of the water we found a stinger wrapped around her leg from the ankle to the upper thigh and still attached to the head of the animal. I then unfurled the stinger with my fingers whilst the Canoe Boys just stood around.
The older daughter also got stung but only a line of about 30 cm.
At least ten other people claimed to have been stung and returned to the main boat.
I then put her in a Canoe and paddled back to the boat only to find that there was no first aid for the treatment of these animals.
The best that could be found was some Gin and some Limes.
After about an hour of screaming, her pain seemed to subside and whilst the mark of the stingers remained, she appeared to improve slowly. By the time we arrived back at the Pier she was back to normal.
Thank night she threw up about five times which we just put down to some food that disagreed with her. We did not seen any connection at this time. The following day our older daughter threw up and still no connection was considered.
About ten days later after returning to Australia, our daughter complained that her leg was itchy and getting worse. She was taken to our Family Doctor and some anti Inflammatory cream was prescribed.
Upon doing a Google Search, I found pictures of similar stings. These web sites indicated that the stings were from a Box Jellyfish.
I contacted Seaworld who advised to Contact the specialist at James Cook Uni in Cairns. I described the animal and took a photo of the sting and sent it to him.
He informed me that it most likely was a Box and that I should purchase a Lottery Ticket. I then took her to a Specialist and after doing a scraping, he indicated that it was definitely a Box Jelly and she was suffering from "Post Envenomation Syndrome" as the needles from the animal were expelled from the body.
I was told that most Box stings are not fatal as death was most likely caused by Toxic Shock or a secondary cause such as a weak Heart or Immune system.
Thus we now know that there was at least one in the area at the time, but even when I contacted the Tour Company and also another well known person I was told that they are not present in Phuket.
My concern is not that they are there, my concern is that there was no First Aid available, which is an OH&S matter. No verbal or written warnings were provided, and also after having people stung, others were still sent into the water.
If they are as common as the Australian expert states, this would be detrimental to tours, tourism and the aquatic industries.
She is well but the experience has scarred her in such a way that on our next trip to Phuket in August 2009, she has stated she will not go in the ocean at all.
In fairness, if there is ever going to be a problem with anything, it is highly likely that this will happen to my daughter. She is always unlucky.
Seriously, when I contacted the tour company they were abusive, when I contacted a well known Dive Company head, they advised it was impossible. This was early mid way through the year very close to the Swedish Tourist death.
The head of Marine Research at James Cook University, who is the Guru on this subject, advised he has been in contact with the Thai researchers about 12 months earlier, stated that these and Irrigangi are common in Thai waters.
Nobody wants to listen.
When I reported the matter to TAT i was told this is a fabrication. How then does she still have the scars?
I have not contributed or started a thread as I did not want to be rubbished by vested interests. So thankfully I have waited and a thread has emerged.
These animals are there, this is not in doubt, however the U-Tube link provided is from much later in the year.
To the operators who do not have First Aid on board and to those Vested interests that don't want to know, then as my Dauughter survived, it is clearly by good luck rather than through good management.
It has been known that these animals ar in Cambodian waters, Vietnamese waters and Indonesian waters so why not in Thai waters?
If you think US dollar movement will effect tourism, well watch what happens if the waters become out of bounds due to Box Jellies.
Editor: I have passed your report on and will be interested to hear what local authorities have to say. Interest in the subject is growing.

Posted by Rob Australia on January 5, 2009 05:27

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TAT doing their usual damage control, if you can't see it and only some individuals complain then it ain't there

Posted by Ian on January 5, 2009 10:03

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yes

Posted by Anonymous on January 12, 2009 11:27

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I was swimming with a friend at Pattong Beach in Phuket about a month ago with a friend when I was stung by a jellyfish. We had just arrived and had no idea of the danger lurking in the water. I was surprised and very frightened to all of a sudden feel fiery pain shooting through my left arm and leg, and abdomen. I ran out of the water, and we found a pharmacist who prescribed a corticosteroid antibiotic. That was, as mentioned before, a month ago. In the meantime, the sting has not healed. It has been extremely itchy, and won't go away. I'm going to visit a doctor soon, as I do not want a scar forever!

Posted by Nicola on July 24, 2009 19:53

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I have also seen box Jelly Fish in the Lagoon at Koh Hong, Krabi

Posted by Simon on July 27, 2011 23:24

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My wife who is Thai was stung by a jellyfish in Ao Nang near Krabi 2008
She felt it very quickly and screamed
we got some vinegar from a Hotel
it was quite painful it was a hot sunny day which is unusual i'm told normally in rain and storming weather they appear
I even asked fishermen at the time was there any mangaprune (Jellyfish) in the sea and they said no.So be careful when swimming.

Posted by Anonymous on December 12, 2011 04:31

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I run a scuba diving shop in Pattaya and in the past 3 or 4 years we have seen increasing numbers of large box jellyfish in these waters. I have personally seen three box jellyfish in the past four months and have had others on my boat report of seeing them so it could be said that collectively we have seen probably around 10 in the past four months.

Posted by Robert Camp on February 12, 2013 17:21

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I went diving on Sunday. The first dive we made was at Koh Doc Mai and we saw no jellyfish, the second dive was at Phi Phi - Bida Nok, there where many many jellyfish in the water and everybody who surface on the west side of the island was stung. The Tour Leader wisely decided not to make another dive there as scheduled and we went to Shark Point where ther was also no jellyfish. I have no idea what type of jellyfish they was, as by this time I was asleep. I have also encountered Bluebottle jellyfish last year at Racha Yai. I got stung and it hurt.

Posted by GazB on February 12, 2013 18:20

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Most Thais are going with more clothes in the water, than the average tourist even walk around with.
That can be the or one reason, for no deadly contacts with boxfish.
Another one can be, that some tourists are swimming a bit away from the beach, most Thais enjoy the shallow waters.
Just a thought.

Posted by Anonymous on February 12, 2013 18:43

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I believe I have been stung by one of these, yesterday off Koh jum, I was in emergency room yesterday and am still experiencing some pain and stiffness I want to know how to report this sting to authorities

Posted by Jenna on August 17, 2013 11:20

Editor Comment:

Do you have photos, Jenna? We can pass on your photos and email contacts. Send any photos you have please to editor@phuketwan.com

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I have some photos but they were a week later. I reported my sting to DAN and was confirmed it was from box jellyfish. It took 5 months to heal and I am left with small scars. :( not something I want to experience again!

Posted by Jenna on August 1, 2014 02:55

Editor Comment:

Box jellyfish, or smaller jellyfish of the same species, or Portuguese Man o' War? There's a big difference.


Tuesday November 19, 2019
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